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What Goes Up Comes Down
William Nack
December 14, 1987
The NFL strike launched Joe DeForest's football career anew, but now he's back on the pad, working at Cape Canaveral
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December 14, 1987

What Goes Up Comes Down

The NFL strike launched Joe DeForest's football career anew, but now he's back on the pad, working at Cape Canaveral

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"Don't worry about it," Heiner said. "Good luck, and let us know how you're doing."

DeForest was on his way. He never hesitated, certainly not at the prospect of being called a scab. "I'm a guy who worked all his life to play football and was rejected, and now it was time to have a second chance," he says. "How many times do you hear of people getting a second chance, taking advantage of it and it really paying off? I don't want to work for a living. What an easy life playing ball is! You work half a year and get paid more than almost anybody gets paid in two years. How can you blame a guy for wanting a piece of that?"

However they justified crossing the picket line, New Orleans replacement players treated their scabhood with humor. Early in the Saints' first strike game, against the Los Angeles Rams, play stopped for a TV timeout. Across the line of scrimmage, the opposing players stood staring at one other. Most of them were strangers, even to their own teammates, who had come together quite suddenly out of nowhere. Just two weeks earlier they were car salesmen, coaches, bricklayers, dockworkers and bartenders. Only one had been a logistics engineer at the John F. Kennedy Space Center, sailing around the Cape of No Hope. In the silence of the moment, Bruce Clark, the Saints' regular left defensive end, who had crossed the picket line, bellowed over to the Rams, "What's up, scabs?"

Players guffawed on both sides of the line. "You just had to laugh," says DeForest. "It typified everybody's attitude: 'We're here, we're gonna play ball, we're gonna have some fun.' "

Some played for money, some for fame and glory, some for a second chance to show what they could do. Whatever their motives, these replacement Saints came together as a team in a way that DeForest had never experienced. They saw themselves as a sort of platoon of doomed soldiers. In such circumstances, total strangers can become the fastest of friends.

"We all knew we were fixing to get cut one of these days, and so every day we got closer and closer," says DeForest. "The instability of the thing brought you together because you wanted someone to lean on. You know that feeling? You didn't know from day to day what was going to happen. You could tell it on the field. We got close. You got in the huddle and believed in the guy next to you because he was your friend—not only your teammate, but your friend. Every day after practice, we rushed home and turned on the news to see what Gene Upshaw was saying."

Upshaw was their hero. "We loved the guy," says DeForest. " Gene Upshaw got us a job by taking the players out."

For DeForest, that four-week period of his life was a rush exceeding anything he could have imagined when he boarded the morning flight out of Orlando for New Orleans. "At first I just wanted to get my picture taken in a uniform," he says. "Then I just wanted to play one play. Then I wanted to start. Then it was, 'I've gotta have a sack.... We gotta win!...I gotta stay for another game.... I gotta stay for the rest of the season.' Then it was, 'I gotta make a career of it.'

"It sounds greedy, but it's addictive. You want more and more and more. Once you get into it, once you taste the life, once you get the money, once you get the fame, there's not one other thing you want to do in the world."

DeForest enjoyed the flavor so much he ended up as the Saints' second-leading tackier during the strike. "A tough guy," says New Orleans outside linebacker coach, Vic Fangio. "He's smart, aggressive, a team player. He's got some natural pop to him."

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